I have always really respected Cry Before Dawn.
I first came across them when Mick McCaughan brought them to Trinity when he was Ents Officer. He had a real knack for spotting and supporting talent. And a great big heart that felt everyone should get a chance to listen to music they liked. And if they had talent they should get a chance to be heard.
It was through Mick that I first heard the Pleasure Cell and that proved to be a life-changing experience. Mick also brought the Pogues to Dublin for their first head-lining tour of Ireland. And he gave a young singer called Sinead O’Connor a chance to play for some visiting record label folks…and the rest is history as they say. He also brought Five Go Down To The Sea as well as Serious Drinking to the college!
He liked Cry Before Dawn so much, he brought them back to Dublin for his end of year Trinity Ball. I even headed down to Wexford to see them play in their home town once and the guitarist’s parents very generously invited me and my record-selling friend Timmy to stay with them.
So here I was again watching Cry Before Dawn in Dublin. The last time I had seen them here was at the Cathedral Club. It was a memorable gig and the performances of ‘Girl in the Grotto’ and ‘Black is the Colour’ have stayed in my mind ever since.
The band made a statement of how highly they regard the new single ‘Is This What You Waited For’ by playing it first. It was a fine move; the song works ever better live that on recording. The guitar playing of Steve Belton really brought the song to a new level in the Button Factory and the audience received it with gusto.
The band always benefited from an ideal rhythm section, Vinnie Doyle on bass and Pat Hayes on drums. They never had to be showy; they were solid in the very best way and gave the songs the best foundation possible.
Next up was the band’s early single for Epic/CBS, ‘The Seed That’s Been Sown’, the haunting song of decisions to leave small cities and town. It was a monumental statement for a pop band at the time. It still is today. Singer Brendan Wade is blessed with the kind of voice that makes for folk singers of the highest standard. And that adds strength to the songs that auto-tuning and special effects just never compensate for. Another great early song, ‘Sentimental’ follows, then ‘Yesterday’s Girl’ from the second album which rocked harder than the debut yet lacked some of the intimacy of that first one.
Curiously, Cry Before Dawn were a band that seemed at once more friendly and wiser than their contemporaries. The songs indicated a world view and wish for a better world. The conveyed a sense of a search for justice. If, as Brendan announced tonight, some of the songs were from “more innocent times”, those songs also asked very pertinent questions of those apparently innocent times.
‘White Strand’ was next, and it demonstrated one of the distinctive features of the band. This was their ability to combine elements of rock music with traditional Irish music. And I don’t mean some kind of soul-less fusion. The elements were never forced. They were deftly merged by the Wexford musicians. The tin whistle tonight was certainly evocative of the Wexford home which many of the songs were about.
There were a few white strands in the audience tonight, too. Most of them sported by lads in the audience which seemed to be aged between late thirties to early fifties. Most were probably teenagers when the band released their early material. And here they were celebrating great music. And like the band, who laughed that only bands like the Dubliners and the Wolfe Tones were supposed to have 30th Anniversaries, we all had a great night.
Other highlights were hearing about pre-Cry Before Dawn musical collaborations at the Sloghadh festival and how the band got the boat from Rosslare to sign their record deal. Nice to hear of young people leaving Ireland in the 80s for something so positive and full of promise.
And if Cry Before dawn never did sell hundreds of thousands of records, they never betrayed or compromised that early promise. And that is an achievement in itself.
‘Flags’ was one of my favourite of their songs and it sounded great tonight. I left the venue with the sights and sounds of the entire crowd singing the debut single ‘Gone Forever’. In this case, and not to sound cheesy, this is one band I am glad have not gone forever!